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World Health Organization Launches WHO Foundation, Allowing Public Donations

Health + Wellness
World Health Organization Launches WHO Foundation, Allowing Public Donations
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says this is a historic step for the group. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP / Getty Images

By Linda Lacina

World Health Organization officials today announced the launch of the WHO Foundation, a legally separate body that will help expand the agency's donor base and allow it to take donations from the general public.


The foundation will accept funding from non-traditional sources, including individual major donors, corporate partners and the general public. Until now the WHO has been one of the few international organizations which has not traditionally received donations from the general public.

"This is a historic step," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

 

The group's funding has gained unprecedented scrutiny in recent weeks after US President Trump has paused funding to the WHO.

While the group has a relatively modest budget for its scope ($2.3 billion, similar to a mid-sized hospital in the developed world, as explained last week), flexible funding sources have been needed for some time, said the Director-General.

The agency's funding comprises contributions from member states, which are flexible, and voluntary contributions earmarked for fixed purposes. Whereas 40 years ago, 80% of the funding was flexible and could be used at the organization's discretion, now that share has shrunk to 20%, the Director-General said recently.

"In effect, that means WHO has little discretion over the way it spends its funds, almost 80% of its funds," he said at today's briefing. "In order to improve flexibility, we need to have additional resources and un-earmarked resources."

Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

The foundation has been in development since February 2018, said the Director-General, and was not created in response to the recent US funding pause. The idea surfaced through a regular 'Open Hour" session where WHO staff are encouraged to come to the Director-General and "generate crazy ideas" to transform the organization.

A COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, launched this spring, helped serve as a proof of concept for the foundation. The fund, created in response to the coronavirus crisis, has raised $214 million USD from more than 400,000 individuals and companies in just two and a half months.

The Response Fund will continue to assist the coronavirus effort, buying lab diagnostics, personal protective equipment, and funding research and development. The WHO Foundation, meanwhile, will have a broader mission, funding all elements of WHO's public health work including: mental health, noncommunicable diseases, emergency preparedness, and health system strengthening.

"The foundation will enhance and complement the global health's ecosystem by providing agility flexibility in receiving contributions and grant making, accelerating WHO-led evidence-based interventions, and focusing on high impact intervention and partnerships," explained Professor Thomas Zeltner, a Swiss physician who serves as chair of the board of the WHO Foundation.

A WHO representative will attend foundation board meetings and report to member states on its interaction with the foundation and funds received from it.

The foundation will ultimately help the WHO focus efforts on promoting good health, rather than just grappling with disease. Additional funding can help the agency invest in some of its least funded areas such as diet or air quality.

"Our focus should not be in managing disease," said the Director-General, "but in preventing it from happening and in helping people to lead a healthy life."

Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.

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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

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But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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